Respect

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (February 21st 2015)

Reputations

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Carlos Velasco Carballo rapidly established himself as Spainʼs top referee since deciding to concentrate on officiating in 2010. He had built up a reputation as a firm but fair referee – one who managed to combine a disciplinarian streak with letting the game flow. This was quite an achievement. It was not unusual for there to be several yellow cards and the odd red card too.

Armed with the appropriate FIFA badge, Velasco Carballo refereed his first international in 2008. His first season refereeing past qualifiers for the Championʼs League coincided with a meteoric rise. In that season he was awarded the 2011 Europa League Final in Dublin. Radamel Falcao García Zárate – then playing for Porto – set a Europa League (UEFA Cup) record for goals scored in the competition.

It was a niggly match settled by a solitary goal scored by Falcao and liberally peppered by fouls and cards. 42 fouls resulted in eight yellow cards. This was a typical Velasco Carballo performance. The following season, he continued where he left off. Velasco Carballo refereed 19 Primera División matches and brandished 16 red cards.

He was Spainʼs representative at Euro2012 ahead of the more experienced Alberto Undiano Mallenco. He refereed the opening match in Poland against Greece. Sokratis Papasthapoulos was controversially sent off, having received two unfortunate yellow cards.

Stock

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Velasco Carballoʼs stock plummeted at the World Cup in the wretched quarter-final between Brasil and Colombia. Some say the occasion got to him, but that does not explain his performance. It wasnʼt just the record tally of fouls – 54 – some of which were appalling. Flagrant encroachment at a free-kick was not only unpunished, but rewarded. It was a performance that defied explanation.

He permitted over 40 offences before brandishing a yellow card in that match in Fortaleza and the first was for a comparatively trivial offence compared to what had gone before and later. FIFA insists that there was no directive to referees to show leniency when it came to showing cards and refused to criticise Velasco Carballoʼs performance in Fortaleza.

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Diego Maradona and Falcao were scathing in their criticism, but they werenʼt to know that Velasco Carballo had officiated against type. It remained to be seen how the Spaniard would perform post Fortaleza. If FIFA was correct and there was no directive then Velasco Carballo must have chosen to abandon his previous style and referee in an alien fashion, which he would no doubt stick to.

The Renaissance

His reputation had taken a mauling during the World Cup. But the signs were there after the World Cup that Velasco Carballo had refereed that match in an alien manner. Last December he refereed Eibar versus Valencia. There were 21 fouls, but 10 yellow cards, four in the last ten minutes. His first match of the new year took place on January 3rd between Sevilla and Celta de Vigo. There were 45 fouls. Velasco Carballo showed nine yellow cards and one red.

It was nowhere near as dirty a match as that infamous quarter-final. A league match between Real Sociedad and Villarreal last month had 24 fouls. He brandished ten yellow cards and a red card too. Just over a month ago he refereed a local encounter Levante versus Elche. Velasco Carballo showed a red card to David Navarro after just 6 minutes. He also showed six yellow cards. There were 26 fouls in the match. Clearly, this was not a referee who would not use his cards if the offence warranted it in Spain. What about in European competition?

He officiated the match between Schalke04 and Maribor in September. There were 24 fouls and five yellow cards were shown, all in the second half. He refereed FCK versus Bayer Leverkusen last August. Each side committed 12 fouls. He showed six yellow cards. Anderlechtʼs home defeat by Arsenal resulted in just three yellow cards with 27 fouls. Ajax beat the Cypriots APOEL comfortably at home in December. The 4-0 drubbing had 16 fouls, 8 each. Two Cypriot players were the only ones booked. It was hardly a dirty match deserving a flurry of cards.

His latest international after the World Cup was a Euro2016 qualifier between Iceland and the Netherlands. Iceland won 2-0. There were 23 fouls and only one booking – Nigel de Jong in the last ten minutes. But all of these statistics donʼt necessarily tell the whole story – not all fouls deserve cards. I have seen only two of his matches since the World Cup – Sevilla versus Celta de Vigo and last Thursdayʼs Europa League tie at White Hart Lane. His performances were true to form. Fortaleza was an aberration.

The Return

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Fans of los Cafeteros present at White Hart Lane would be forgiven a double take or two at his performance on Thursday night. It was the same referee who lost control of the quarter-final between Brasil and Colombia. There was never any danger of a repeat dose tonight as long as there were no ludicrous directives. It soon became clear that there were not.

Just three minutes into the match those familiar with the style and performances of Madrid-based referee Carlos Velasco Carballo – remember him – saw a familiar sight. The real Velasco Carballo jogging over to Spursʼ right wing with intent. Gonzalo Rodríguez brought down Andros Townsend. It was a bad foul that deserved a booking and got one.

Velasco Carballo had made it clear where his line was and the match quickly settled down. There was no danger that this would degenerate into foul fare. The referee was in control. The whole match had 24 fouls and just three yellow cards. The refereeʼs authority was never in doubt and it flowed. There was no need for more cards. This is the real Carlos Velasco Carballo.

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Tatters

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (January 10th 2015)

Reputation

Carlos Velasco Carballoʼs reputation may never recover. Having refereed against type at Fortalezaʼs Estádio Castelão in the controversial hackfest of Brasil v Colombia, Velasco Carballo was savaged by Diego Maradona and given FIFAʼs equivalent of a vote of confidence. FIFA refused to give Juan Camilo Zuñiga Mosquera a retrospective red card or rescind Thiago Silvaʼs yellow card.

Zuñiga should have been sent off, but so should several others. It was baffling that a referee with a reputation as a disciplinarian had refereed this match as if he had forgotten his cards in the dressing room. It is also a great pity as Velasco Carballo, contrary to Maradonaʼs opinion is actually a very good referee – one who had steadily earned the top matches with stellar performances. That reputation is all but undone by one match.

He officiated his first top flight match a decade ago – Barçelona v Sevilla. Velasco Carballo decided to concentrate exclusively on refereeing in 2010. He had quietly built up a reputation as a firm but fair referee – one who managed to combine a disciplinarian streak with letting the game flow. This was quite an achievement.

Careful

He was a studious referee too – one who knew the foibles of those he was refereeing. Nobody pulled the wool over his eyes, so what happened to him on July 4th 2014? Did the occasion get to him? The refereeing of that match took some explaining then – it still does. There is no evidence that he was fazed by big occasions.

Velasco Carballo refereed his first international match in 2008 after earning the appropriate FIFA badge. The 2010-11 season was his first refereeing past the qualifiers for the Championʼs League. He ended that season with a high profile match – the Europa League Final in Dublin. Radamel Falcao – then playing for Porto – set a Europa League (UEFA Cup) record for goals scored in the competition.

Falcao, who would strongly criticise Velasco Carballo over the match in Fortaleza, scored the only goal of that match. It was a match punctuated by fouls and cards. 42 fouls resulted in eight yellow cards. This was typical Velasco Carballo. The native of Madrid is not allowed to referee any match involving Madrid teams, but his performance in that season marked him as one to watch.

Against His DNA

His performance in Fortaleza was incredible. There were 54 fouls in that match – well penalised ones. He brandished four yellow cards and no red cards. It required more than 40 offences bbefore he showed his first card and that was not for a violent challenge. There were also offences that were not penalised despite being under his nose (see Pockmarked at https://empowersport.wordpress.com/2015/01/10/pockmarked/).

The failure to enforce the rules also contributed to a serious injury suffered by Neymar. Zuñiga ploughed into Neymarʼs back. Whether he intended serious injury or not is immaterial. It was a ludicrous challenge – one that would never have been tolerated, or most likely even tried, if Velasco Carballo had been allowed to referee as he normally would have.

Zuñiga quickly apologised. The players have no problem with each other, but anxious to reach the ball or not these are the challenges that must not be allowed or encouraged even tacitly, as lack of consequences does. When Brasil played Colombia in a friendly in the USA, they embraced each other, but that match was scarred by the quarter-final in Fortaleza – a dirty business. Juan Guilermo Cuadrado Bello was sent off.

Form

The Europa League Final was far from the only match that Velasco Carballo refereed in his strict manner. He has a habit of showing cards, including sending players off. During the 2011-12 season in Spain he issued 16 red cards in 19 matches that he refereed. He was Spainʼs representative at Euro2012, refereeing the opening match between co-hosts Poland and Greece.

Sokratis Papastathopoulos received a second yellow card for fouling Polandʼs Rafal Murawski just before half time. Even that card was harsh, but the previous one beggared belief. Just before being sent off he received his first yellow card for allegedly fouling Robert Lewandowski, but the replays showed that Papastathopoulos had actually won the ball cleanly and fairly.

It was no foul and therefore it could not have been a yellow card. If he did not receive a yellow card then, he would not have been sent off for fouling Murawski and Greece would still have had eleven players on the pitch.

To paraphrase the great author Oscar Wilde: “To give one yellow card wrongly or harshly may be considered a misfortune. To give two is carelessness”! He also sent off Polandʼs goal-keeper Wojciech Szczesny in the same match.

So what happened in Fortaleza? Why had he abandoned the habits of a lifetime and done so on an even bigger stage? We are yet to get a satisfactory answer. Tolerating over forty offences before brandishing a single yellow card resulted in a display that was alien to the Spaniardʼs DNA.

And what of Velasco Carballo himself? FIFA say that there was no directive to referees to spare the rod and spoil the spectacle. But why would a stern referee officiate so against type? They also failed to take any sanction against the Spaniard for his bizarre performance that surely would have followed if it was all his fault. Would he return to form free from the ʻdirectiveʼ or was Fortaleza a taste of things to come?

The New Dynasty

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (July 13th 2014)

The Tactician

With the spectre of penalties looming Bayern München’s Mario Götze’s spectacular goal ended Germany’s 18 year wait for a trophy at the Estádio Maracanã tonight. Joachim Löw’s strategy and patience had finally been rewarded with the ultimate triumph. With eight minutes of the second period of extra time remaining a quick throw-in down the left flank released Chelsea’s André Schürrle.

His cross was chested down and volleyed across the Monaco’s second choice keeper Sergio Romero for the goal that won the World Cup. It was a strike worthy of ending almost two decades of pain and a decade for the clinical tactician Löw. There was a typically German meticulous attention to detail to Löw’s planning that required unusual patience to bear fruit and deliver the foundations for continued success – domination even.

The Next Generation

Eight years ago Löw took over the Mannschaft from Jürgen Klinsmann, who had blooded the youngsters who now provided the experience to blend with the undoubted promise of the next generation, which hammered England’s youth five years ago. Captained by 30-year-old Philipp Lahm the Mannschaft has integrated exceptionally talented youngsters – the Under-20 European Cup winning team of 2009 – and delivered their first senior title.

Germany’s team of World beaters is young and achieved the top prize in half the time it took Spain’s tiki-taki generation to translate youthful promise into senior prowess. Five years ago Germany’s Under-20 team destroyed England 4-0 in Malmo to claim an important trophy. Manuel Neuer, Benedikt Höwedes, Mats Hummels, Jérôme Boateng, Mesut Özil and Sami Khedira played a huge part in German success as youngsters and now in the senior team too.

But for Khedira’s injury during warming up more than half of that Cup-winning team would have started the World Cup Final. Löw’s plans for German domination for years to come appear to be built on solid foundations. Few deny that Germany were worthy winners and the team of the tournament.

Small Margins

Despite the odd flash of genius Barçelona’s Lionel Messi failed to provide the moment of genius capable of settling Argentina’s nerves, or even testing the Goalkeeper of the Tournament, Germany’s sweeper/keeper Manuel Neuer. But Germany didn’t have everything their own way.

Argentina had the best of the first half and even had the ball in the net, but Argentina should have taken the lead earlier. Napoli’s Gonzalo Higuaín will have nightmares for the rest of his career over the glaring miss that prolongs an even longer wait for silverware than Germany’s for his country. The Albiceleste last lifted a major trophy in 1993 – the Copa América.

A defensive header out by Borussia Dortmund’s Mats Hummels was inexplicably headed back into Higuaín’s path by Toni Kroos. The Real Madrid bound midfielder’s error should have been punished by Higuaín, but Neuer was quick off his line, making himself a bigger obstacle. Higuaín lobbed him, but his effort went wide. Credit to Neuer, but Higuaín had to score that.

Redemption Lost

Ten minutes later Higuaín thought that redemption had come. A glorious pass by Messi released Ezequiel Lavezzi on the right wing. Lavezzi’s cross was converted by Higuaín – a more difficult chance, but eagle-eyed assistant referee Andrea Steffani had spotted an offside and the goal was disallowed.

Germany had chances too. With half-time approaching Kroos’ corner was met by a virtually unmarked Benedikt Höwedes. His header hit the post, but the assistant referee’s flag was quickly raised as Thomas Müller was offside.

Shortly after the break Lucas Biglia put Messi through on the left of the area, but Messi pulled his shot wide of Neuer’s left hand post. A player of Messi’s class should have scored. It was far from a dirty match, but once again the directive struck. Javier Mascherano has arguably been Argentina’s most important player – allowing Messi to shin – but while no quarter was asked or given the desire to avoid cards being shown turned into a foulers’ charter.

No Quarter Asked or Given

Mascherano was booked for a lunge on Miroslav Klose after losing possession, but escaped further sanction for further fouling later, including a double-team lunge with Lucas Biglia on Bastian Schweinsteiger. The Bayern München midfielder was the victim of some harsh treatment.

Manchester City’s Sergio Agüero, plagued by injuries, replaced Lavezzi at half time and soon made a nuisance of himself. Within twenty minutes of coming on he was deservedly booked for an atrocious foul on Schweinsteiger. Agüero can have no complaints. He could have been sent off, but another offence early in the second period of extra time left Schweinsteiger bloodied as Agüero’s hand connected with the German’s head. Sami Khedira was incensed.

Khedira’s last minute replacement Christoph Kramer suffered a head injury after a collision with Marcos Rojo. Eventually, Kramer had to be replaced by Schürrle. His injury reignited the debate on whether concussed or dazed players should be allowed to play on whether they want to or not. There was no question of intent or malice in the challenge. Others were fortunate to remain on the pitch.

Exploitation

Neuer was fortunate to escape a card. Just over ten minutes into the second half he leapt high and caught Higuaín in the head with his knee. Higuaín was distinctly unimpressed, but there was no card for Neuer. Incredibly the officials penalised Higuaín. It made a mockery of the tournament as thuggery on the pitch was rewarded with a licence to foul – one that Brasilian legend Zico said had been exploited.

Far from protecting skilful players from unwanted cards and suspensions, it put a mark on their backs that was cynically exploited by the least skilful and thuggish teams – Brasil was just the highest profile example of this. This wretched approach invaded the final too. But the football was entertaining too.

Icons

Both sides tried to win. No sooner had extra time started that both sides attacked. Höwedes passed to Schürrle who went to ground after prodding it to Götze. Schürrle got up and received Götze’s pass before shooting, but Romero parried. Five minutes later Marcos Rojo delivered an excellent cross, but substitute Rodrigo Palacio’s first touch cost him dear. Neuer got off his line quickly and Palacio’s lob went wide. He should have scored.

Well into injury time Argentina had a free-kick. Messi took it and blasted it well over. The curtain fell on Argentina’s dreams of Maracanazo II and on Messi’s hopes to match national icon Diego Maradona’s place in his country’s affections.

Greatness

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (July 13th 2014)

Thrust upon Them

Make no mistake about this, Lionel Messi will go down in history as one of the greatest footballers ever to grace the beautiful game. That will happen whether he wins the World Cup or not. Johan Cruijff, Alfredo di Stéfano, Ferenc Puskás, Eusébio, Valentino and Alessandro Mazzola and many others never won the World Cup.

Does that mean they were not great players? Only to fools who know nothing about football. Nobody with any football knowledge would put Stéphane Guivarcʼh on the same plane as those mentioned above, even though he won the World Cup and they did not.

Legacy

Messiʼs legacy – win or lose today – is far from complete. Diego Maradona is credited with lifting a mediocre team on his shoulders all the way to glory in 1986. It certainly wasnʼt the greatest team ever to win the World Cup, but the supporting cast was contained some talented players too.

Jorge Valdano went on to play for Real Madrid and demonstrate administrative skills too. The former record holder for most caps for his country Oscar Ruggeri organised the defence. Ruggeri is recognised as the cog that made Argentinaʼs defence tick.

Former World Cup-winning captain Daniel Passarella, albeit an ageing Passarella, was in the squad too and Jorge Burruchaga was part of that team. Burruchaga tasted the delight of scoring in the World Cup Final and the shame of a ban for agreeing to a bribe in the infamous Valenciennes/Olympique Marseilles scandal, even though he never actually took the bribe.

Exceptional

While Maradona didnʼt have to do it alone – he had an impressive five goals and five assists – Messi has a higher calibre of team-mate. Gonzalo Higuaín, Sergio Agüero, Javier Mascherano and Ángel di Maria to name but a few.

Messi is an exceptional talent – one of the greatest ever. Win or lose tonight, he still will be. However, winning the World Cup at the Estádio do Maracanã will make the entire team, especially national heroes and eclipse the horror of the Maracanazo with an even greater pain than Uruguay inflicted on Brasil 64 years ago or even the 7-1 humiliation by Germany in Belo Horizonte.

 

Argentina go through as Belgium is Found Wanting

 

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (July 5th 2014)

Higuaín Shines

Argentina reached the semi-final of Brasilʼs World Cup with an efficient 1-0 victory over Marc Wilmotsʼ young Belgium side making their first appearance in the World Cup Finals since 2002 courtesy of Gonzalo Higuaínʼs excellent 8th minute strike. The build up was fortunate – the finish masterful. After twisting and turning Lionel Messi fed Real Madridʼs Ángel di María on the right.

Di María tried to put Manchester Cityʼs Pablo Zabaleta through on the overlap and was fortunate that a massive deflection off Jan Vertonghen took it into the path of Higuaín. The Napoli striker deserves all the credit for the goal which turned out to be the historic winner. Higuaín had been distinctly underwhelming in the tournament previously.

This was his first goal – an instinctive shot to goal-keeper Thibaut Courtoisʼ right. The Belgian keeper who had never tasted defeat for his country until this afternoon could do nothing about it. It proved enough to set up a semi-final clash against either the Netherlands or surprise package Costa Rica who meet tonight. Higuaínʼs winner was the first time that Argentina had reached the semi-final in normal time since Diego Maradonaʼs prime.

Fear

It took Wilmotsʼ side over 40 minutes to fashion their best opportunity. Vertonghen was released on the left by Chelseaʼs Eden Hazard. His cross deserved a better header than Evertonʼs Kevin Mirallas provided. Sergio Romero was not required to make a save. Fifteen minutes earlier VfL Wolfsburgʼs Kevin de Bruyne at least forced Monacoʼs reserve goal-keeper Sergio Romero to make a save, but it was a long range effort that didnʼt seriously test the keeper. The rebound eluded Lille teenager Divock Origi – Romelu Lukaku remained on the bench despite finding form against the USA.

Di María was unable to continue after just over half an hour. He may be out of the tournament. Messi had yet to shine. After 38 minutes Messi was felled by Manchester United misfit Marouane Fellainiʼs persistent fouling. He picked himself up to take the free-kick, but Courtois, whose future will be resolved after the World Cup was not required to make a save.

Messi had a chance to put Belgium away in added time when put through by substitute Fernando Gago. With just Courtois to beat Messi tried to caress it past the La Liga winner with the outside of his foot, but Courtois saved well to keep Belgium in contention – just.

Officiating

Less than ten minutes into the second half the largely ineffective Hazard was fortunate that he only received a yellow card for a high tackle on Lazioʼs Lucas Biglia.

Two minutes later Enzo Pérez broke on the right wing before passing to Higuaín who blazed a trail through the Belgian defence, nutmegging Kompany before unleashing a powerful shot that not even Courtois could keep out. Fortunately for him it hit the crossbar and bounced over. Belgium had little choice, but to attack as time began to ebb. Fellaini headed Vertonghenʼs excellent cross over with an hour gone.

Shortly afterwards Italian referee Nicola Rizzoli initially gave a corner to Belgium, but after consulting his assistant changed his mind and gave a free-kick against Fellaini for fouling Ezequiel Garay. Despite this, Rizzoliʼs performance was a lesson for other referees as he kept control without showing undue leniency – apart from Hazardʼs offence – or it ever threatening to become a card-fest.

End-Game

Belgium had to press harder for an equaliser, but their attacks lacked quality. It wasnʼt until added time that they seriously threatened and even then Romero was not called into action. Their last attempt was also their best, but it came after Messi should have ended the small chance that they had.

In the centre of Argentinaʼs half Zenit Saint Petersburgʼs Axel Witsel found Mertens to his left. Mertens played it forward to Lukaku. The Chelsea striker squared it, but Garay snubbed out the danger and it eventually broke to Witsel who shot over from 23 yards. It was their last chance. Argentina were through to face either the Netherlands or surprise package Costa Rica.

It was the first time in almost a quarter of a century that Argentina had reached the semi-final of the World Cup in normal time.

 

More Despicable People and the World Cup (Part One) – Archive

Editor’s Note:

With the World Cup just days away, we publish these articles on the abuse of football’s most prestigious tournament again. They are particularly timely as Brasil has been polarised by hosting the tournament. Demonstrators will once again take to the streets in major cities throughout the country to demand social changes – ones that should have been delivered after last year’s Confederations Cup.

Derek Miller

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (June 18th 2008)

Early Days

The early years of the World Cup had been tainted by the fascist dictator Benito Mussolini’s shameful manipulation of the tournament in 1934.1 He was captured and executed by partisans in 1944, but ten years earlier the nation celebrated the World Cup triumph and Mussolini basked in the adulation that accompanied that victory.

They celebrated again four years later as the world edged closer to war. The legendary Italian coach Vittorio Pozzo remains the only coach (manager) to have won the World Cup twice.

Pozzo successfully countered the threat of his friend Hugo Meisl’s prototype of total football Austria’s Wunderteam of 1934 with a more physical approach exemplified by the Oriundi Luis Monti, who man-marked Austria’s star player Matthias Sindelar out of the game. He repeated the trick on the flair of the Brasilians in 1938, benefiting from the complacent decision not to play the tournament’s top scorer Leônidas da Silva. The Italians also prevented Hungary’s star striker Gyula Zsengellér from scoring in the final – the only match he failed to do so.

Despots

Mussolini was the first despot to exploit the power of the World Cup to legitimise nasty regimes, but he wasn’t the last. During the World Cup in México in 1970 Edson Orantes do Nascimento (Pelé) took an England player aside and told him: “Our country is ruled by despicable people.”

It was a sentiment that was later echoed by one of Pelé’s great rivals for the tag of greatest ever player, Diego Maradona, when he vowed that he would never allow himself to be used by Argentina’s military despots again after discovering the extent of the lies the military junta had fed to the Argentinian people during the World Cup in Spain in 1982.

Four years earlier the teenage Maradona was part of Argentina’s World Cup winning squad without getting playing time, but he sampled the atmosphere in Buenos Aires as his compatriots celebrated winning the World Cup while a truly bestial régime ruled through fear and murder. It was later proved to be a World Cup tainted by that evil régime.

Bad Timing

Argentina had tried to win the right to host the World Cup on many occasions previously, but every attempt had failed, while even small neighbours Uruguay and Chile had hosted it in 1930 and 1962 respectively. The World Cup tended to alternate between Europe and Latin America – mainly South America – and Brasil had hosted it in 1950.

It was Argentina’s turn to host the tournament and everyone knew it, so they prepared to welcome the football world in 1978, having been awarded the tournament long before the Dirty War scarred the country.

President Isabel Martínez de Perón succeeded her husband Juan in that office on his death in July 1974 and expected to preside at the opening ceremony of Argentina’s World Cup, but the man she promoted to Commander in Chief in 1975 – General Jorge Rafael Videla Redondo2 – had other ideas.

Perón’s government was authoritarian, but it was also ineffective. Few tears were shed for Isabel Perón when she was toppled in a coup d’état, led by Videla, in March 1976, but his régime was merciless, cruel and utterly brutal. It soon attracted international condemnation for systematic human rights abuses that included torture: kidnap, disappearances and murder – the Dirty War.

There was talk of a boycott or even moving the World Cup finals elsewhere. Videla’s international reputation could not have been lower, but the talked of boycott fizzled out in the end and the dictator managed to keep his tournament and he had big plans for it.

The Argentinian economy was a complete mess, but Videla spent a fortune on the World Cup – sound familiar? From the very beginning he intended to use it to legitimise his rule and was allowed to do so by the football world and its governing body FIFA, but this was a time when to their shame western governments in particular turned a blind eye to horrific abuses of human rights committed by allies like Videla.

1 For further information see the four part series Despicable People and the World Cup that was published previously in the magazine.

2 Videla is universally despised in Argentina now. In March 1981 he was replaced by Roberto Viola. The junta was brought down as a result of losing the Falklands War. With democracy restored in 1983 Videla was prosecuted for widespread human rights abuses. He was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1985 and discharged from the military.

     But Videla was pardoned under an amnesty granted by President Carlos Menem in 1990, but in 1998 he briefly returned to prison over his role in the kidnap of the children of those who had disappeared during his dictatorship. He was then put under house arrest due to ill-health. Five years ago President Néstor Kirchner began moves to remove the immunity that Videla had been granted by Menem.

     Videla is no longer recognised as a legitimate President of Argentina. Two years ago Judge Norberto Oyarbide struck down the pardon given to him by Menem as unconstitutional and last year his human rights convictions were restored. Videla remains under house.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Update: Videla’s convictions over the deaths of 31 opponents of his coup were restored in 2010. Two years later he was sentenced to a further 50 years for his part in the systemic kidnapping of children. He died in prison in May 2013.

 

Festival of Samba Football

by Valery Villena © Valery Villena (May 18th 2014)

History

Brazil’s second World Cup is almost here. I can’t wait. CONMEBOL is a a giant of a federation with few members – an almost exclusive club that punches well above its weight. The first World Cup was won by the best team in the world at that time – Uruguay against Argentina in the football equivalent of the Battle of the River Plate.

Europe hosted the next two World Cups – both won by Italy. Brazil hosted in 1950 and were surprised by Uruguay who won their second and to date last World Cup. The tournament returned to Europe for West Germany to surprise the superb Hungarians of Ferenc Puskás and Nándor Hidegkuti. The only break in the hosting and winning pattern came when Brazil beat Sweden 5-2 in Stockholm in 1958.

South America hosted again in 1962. Chile achieved their best ever finish – third – while Brazil became the first and so far only South American team to retain the World Cup beating Czechoslovakia in the final. Four years later England hosted and won and then a CONCACAF country hosted for the first time. A sublime Brazil dismantled Italy 4-1 in that final. Twenty years after surprising football West Germany won again in 1974 – the first of the Netherlands’ consecutive defeats in 1974 and 1978. Argentina hosted and won controversially in 1978 – the last time our continent has hosted to date.

Spain hosted and Italy won for the third time in 1982. Colombia was due to host in 1986. México stepped in to become the first country to host twice. Argentina won again, inspired by one of if not the best player ever Diego Maradona. The result of the 1986 final against West Germany was reversed in 1990 in Italy.

The USA hosted in 1994. Brazil beat Italy on penalties in a dire final. France hosted for the second time in 1998, 60 years after Italy triumphed on French soil. Inspired by Zinedine Zidane. South Korea and Japan hosted in 2002. Both South America and Europe fancied their chances with Brazil prevailing over Germany in Tokyo. Germany finished third when they hosted in 2006 – all four semi-finalists were European and Italy beat France. The last World Cup was Africa’s first. Spain beat the Netherlands in the

final.

So what does this prove? The only teams to have won the World Cup are South American or European. I can’t see that changing in Brazil. European teams almost always triumph in Europe. South Americans have always won when hosted in Central or North America. It’s up for grabs in neutral continents Asia and Africa, but this World Cup is in Brazil – the most successful country in the history of the World Cup. I firmly believe that a South American team will win. So her’s my assessment of them.

CONMEBOL’s Finest

Brazil:A Selecção’ is a well-balanced team. Their talented midfield is tactically flawless and they may have the best defense on the planet. The creativity of Brazil is most evident in their lethal counter-attacks, and they have a certain Neymar, who is ready to explode. They are expected to win the tournament. Can Brazil handle the enormous pressure? Brazil may do that with aplomb.

Argentina:La Albiceleste’ is arguably the best attacking force in the world. Lionel Messi, Gonzalo Higuaín, Sergio Agüero and Ángel Di María can score against anyone. However, there are question marks on defense and midfield since these areas don’t come close to matching the quality of their colleagues up front.

At any rate, the defense isn’t too shabby, but it doesn’t promise any guarantees either. Obviously, reaching a good balance is the key for Argentina to succeed. They may reach the Final because Messi will probably shine more than ever before and this may be Messi’s World Cup after all, just like Maradona’s in 1986.

Uruguay:Los Charruas’ have excellent forwards in Luís Suárez, fresh from a superb season for Liverpool and PSG’s Edinson Cavani, a strong midfield, and an experienced defense. Diego Forlán can be a super-sub and change the outcome of the matches too.

Uruguay’s tactics in the World Cup will be very conservative; it will have a lot of players in midfield trying to steal the ball for a quick counterattack. They dream of another 1950, and they have enough inner strength and team spirit based on a solid defense and midfield, along with effective striking up front, to reach another semi-final, just like in 2010 is a distinct possibility.

Chile:La Roja’ is very good tactically; everyone knows his role to perfection and the team play really well. They like to press and win the ball back immediately. La Roja has some talented players who can breach the best defenses. They are capable of passing their adversaries to death and/or counter-attack with the best.

Nevertheless, Chile may be vulnerable to a physical side that’s very organized in defense. Such a team may stop them, although everyone this side of Brazil will find them extremely tough to beat. If Chile can win their group – thus potentially avoiding Brazil in the Round of 16 – they may go very far in the World Cup.

Colombia:Los Cafeteros’ are a good counterattacking team. They are most comfortable having nine men behind the ball. They defend with intensity and wait to pounce with swift counter-attacks by using their wingers. Radamel Falcao is out injured and may not be fully recovered in time, but they have capable replacements – Fiorentina’s Juan Cuadrado is in the shop-window. Expect to see the pacy winger move to a big club, especially if he excels in Brazil. Europa League winner Carlos Bacca is another to look out for.

This team is expected to win their group with few problems. However, their lack of success in previous World Cups could be a huge factor against them in the Round of 16 when they face an opponent with World Cup experience.

Ecuador: ‘La Tricolor’ is a solid team, tough to break down and well-drilled. They have a strong midfield that covers a lot of space. Jefferson Montero is a very important and highly skilled player, who may surprise, but Ecuador is an example of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.

The key game for Ecuador will be their first against Switzerland; a win there, and they may be on their way to the Round of 16, where they hope to improve on their 2006 World Cup showing. They play England in Miami just before the World Cup starts.